When we discuss the character and nature of God, we say that God is “immutable”, meaning He is incapable of change. Yet, here in 1 Samuel, we read that God Himself says, “It repenteth me…”. How can this be if the meaning of the word repent means, to change, but God never changes, how then can He repent? To further complicate this issue, we read in the same chapter, “28 And Samuel said unto him, The LORD hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbour of thine, that is better than thou. 29 And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent.” And to add even more confusion, the last verse reads, “35 And Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death: nevertheless, Samuel mourned for Saul: and the LORD repented that he had made Saul king over Israel.”

How can we say God never changes, when we read twice in this chapter He repented, and a third time we’re told in the SAME chapter “God is not a man that he should repent”? Does this confusing passage give credence to those who claim the Bible is “full” of contradictions? Does this mean the Bible is untrustworthy? The answer is simply, no.

When used in relation to humans, repentance means to change one’s mind. When we discuss repentance in relation to sin the meaning is to change one’s mind about their sin, and to turn from their sin to God. The idea behind repentance is not simply to change, but to change direction (i.e. Turn from/turn to). What led to Samuel’s declaration in verses 28-29 that “God is not a man that He should repent” was Saul’s begging him to “pardon” his sin, and “turn again with me, that I may worship the LORD” (v. 24).

In the context of God and repenting, it should be noted that God’s character and nature stay the same. He never sins; therefore He never has to turn from His sin. When Bible speaks of God repenting, the idea is a change has come. God is moving on to the next stage in His plan. In the case of Saul, God never intended him to rule in Israel forever. This moment in Saul’s life was a pivot point as God was changing direction from Saul to David. There was no change in God, the time had come for God’s plan change/turn from its current course/turn to its ultimate destination. God never changes, and for that, we should be grateful.

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